The global art market – an overview of 2011



Following our summaries of the performance of the Art Market Confidence Index and of the French art market in 2011, we are closing the series with a round-up of the global art auction market in 2011.

2011 was the most prolific year ever recorded for the global art market. Whereas financial markets closed the year 1% down (S&P 500) with an 18% drop between July and October, the art market posted a 15% increase in revenue in 2011.
At the start of the year, art price levels were close to those observed in the second half of 2007 (several months before the historically high levels observed at the end of 2007) and they finished 2011 very close to the levels reached in July 2008 (just a couple of months before the meltdown that knocked 37% off art prices until the recovery in early 2010).

The spectacular emergence of Asia and particularly China as of 2007, and that country’s domination of the world’s art market as of 2010, was again confirmed in 2011. With preliminary figures suggesting China accounted for 39% of the global art market during the year, that would imply an increase of 6 percentage points versus 2010, and a 32% rise in art auction revenue in just one year!
With 25% of global art auction revenue, the United States is in second place behind China. The USA is losing global market share, but managed to maintain its 2010 revenue level at roughly $2.8 billion.
With 20% of the global market, the United Kingdom not only maintained its third place in the global ranking but drew closer to the US after posting a 23% increase in auction revenue versus 2010.
The Chinese art market is therefore growing faster and taking market share away from the American market that it overtook the previous year.

Asia not only accounts for the largest volume of global art auction revenue, but is also beginning to generate the best individual auction results. With more than 684 results above the million-dollar threshold hammered in China in 2011, that is already well over a hundred more than the US total (533) over the same period, and represents a 36% increase in the number of Chinese million-plus auction results versus 2010.
The best individual auction result of the year 2011 (USD 57m for QI Baishi’s – Eagle Standing on Pine Tree; Four-Character Couplet in Seal Script) was hammered in Beijing. Of the year’s 100 best individual results, 30 came from Hong Kong, Beijing and Hangzhou.

In 2011, the ultra-top end of China’s art market generated 51% of the world’s total art market revenue with approximately 1600 auction lots! In effect, the global 2011 art market showed a healthy balance between its top end, which posted strong growth, and its affordable segment, which also posted steady growth (70% of the global lots sold for less than USD 5,000 i.e. 11% more than in 2008/2009) representing less than 5% of global art auction revenue.

Alongside Asia’s and China’s geographical domination of the global art market, we have also seen a strong growth in the values of Asian artists since 10 of the world’s 15 most sought-after artists are of Chinese origin. For the second time in 15 years, Pablo Picasso is not the world’s top selling artist (in 2007, Andy WARHOL briefly occupied the first position in Artprice’s Top 10 ranking of artist’s by auction revenue) and comes only third in 2011 behind ZHANG Daqian and Qi Baishi despite the fact that the Spanish artist generated a total of more than USD 320 million, his second best annual total (2010 produced his best-ever annual total). Zhang Daqian with more than $500m and Qi Baishi with more than $445m both managed to exceed the highest individual annual total ever generated by an artist (the previous record, $360m, belonged to Pablo PICASSO for 2010).
In the domain of living artists, the highest-selling non-Chinese artist in the global ranking is in 6th place: Jeff KOONS generated “only” $36m versus more than $90m for ZAO Wou-Ki, $57m for ZENG Fanzhi, $51m for FAN Zeng, $41m for ZHANG Xiaogang and $39m for CUI Ruzhuo.

Overall, in 2011 the global art market offered an extraordinary level of resistance to the general context of crisis, and we can already declare that it was indeed the best year the art market has ever known. But these results are, above all, the fruit of the phenomenal growth of the Chinese art market. Without China, the 2011 global art market would have posted an overall result 25% below that of 2007!